Rotary Reflections

As presented by Priscilla Henkelmann at the Service Above Self Awards Luncheon of Lincoln Rotary Club #14 on June 24, 2014

I’ve been asked to reflect today on what it means to me to have been the first non-honorary woman member of the Downtown Lincoln Rotary Club---within the context of this year’s Rotary Theme---Engage Rotary, Change Lives.

In May, 1987 the United State Supreme Court ruled that women could not be excluded from Rotary in the state of California. The RI Board had decided to concede the US to accepting women members if they lost the case. Since the RI Council only met every 3 years, it was not until 1989 that the RI Board extended the decision to accept women as members internationally. So, this year is significant to Rotary history, since it has been 25 years since Rotary worldwide has been open to inclusion of all business and professional people-men and women. Is there anyone in this room who does not agree that Rotary changing to include and engage women members has strengthened Rotary around the globe? It certainly made me glad a few years after I joined Rotary to have had several older club members who had initially opposed women members say that they had been wrong and women were now an integral party of Rotary’s current and future success.

So back to my story of Rotary engagement. In the fall of 1987, Dr. Klaus Hartmann, who was at that time Superintendent of the Lincoln Regional Center came into my office; I was director of Community Mental Health Services for the State of Ne at that time and was fairly new and young in my management position. He told me that Rotary was going to soon be taking women members and he thought I should put my name forward for consideration. Well, if Dr. Hartmann recommended that I should join Rotary, I did not hesitate to do it. He is a professional whose judgment and values I deeply respect.

When I was introduced into this club in October, 1987 I was so green that I had never even been to a Rotary meeting and really did not know too much about Rotary, its worldwide reach, and the exceptional mix of business and professional people who are Rotary. I did not even know there was an attendance requirement.

Being the first women, while certainly an honor, was never really an issue or focus of my membership, because other women soon followed and Club #14 Rotarians engaged me in the club from day one. So many members reached out to involve me with committees, social functions, Rotary International, community project like Salvation Army bell ringing, foreign students, Paul Harris Fellowship giving, etc.

Members of this club and other clubs in our District and worldwide have taught me about all facets of Rotary. Thank you to so many current and past members of this club for the many wonderful experiences I have had in Rotary, including the privilege of Board service, seeing our Foundation develop and serving on its Board, chairing and working on a number of committees, hosting a son from France, who is a full family member at our home, traveling to the Dominican Republic with other club members to see our World Community Service efforts in action, attending clubs in far off places like Japan and Martinique. I am also grateful for all the friends and acquaintances I have made through Rotary. The object of Rotary is service---service above self. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to serve in Rotary’s five avenues of service. Rotary achieves its object of service by fostering friendships, maintaining high ethical standards in all facets of life, and advancing international understanding, goodwill and peace. Thank you Rotary for making the change some 25 years ago to include women and reaching out to engage me in Rotary.

As our current president, Ron Burton, said so well at the beginning of this Rotary year, “When we really engage Rotary, that’s when lives change. And, at the end of the day, no matter how many lives you reach out to change, the life that will change the most will be your own.” Thank you.